Silvia and Anshika Reflect on Maria's Inspiration for Women of Color

by Silvia Oakland & Anshika Singh

Maria Pearson teaching at a pow-wow in Mankato.
Maria Pearson teaching at a pow-wow in Mankato. (Source: Ames History Museum)

As we are getting closer to the end of Women’s History Month, it’s really important to uplift and amplify the voices of those who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC). We each have our own experiences, and Anshika and Silvia felt a strong connection when they began working on telling the story of Maria Pearson. Read about their perspectives:

Silvia’s Experience

I have always been a white-passing female. My mom is Mexican and my dad is Caucasian, and I have a way lighter skin tone than my mom. When I was younger, I hated that I looked even slightly different than my classmates who were all white. I was made fun of for wearing some clothes that were more traditional to my Mexican culture or bringing my own lunch that had traditional food packed in it. However, I soon grew out of this feeling of shame or embarrassment, and I was proud of my family and our culture.

When I began researching about Maria Pearson and seeing the work she had done to keep her culture alive within her family and to make it known to the community, I was inspired. I saw a woman who was proud of her culture and her heritage, and a woman who was not going to back down from protecting it.

Silvia and her Mom in Mexico.
Silvia and her mom in Mexico.

Maria had a wonderful relationship with her grandmother who taught her the culture and traditions of the Yankton Sioux, specifically the Turtle Clan which she was a part of. Her grandmother helped Maria understand her culture when she was walking the line of being both Catholic and Native American. I have also felt this straddling of cultural lines, you feel as though you don’t belong with one group, but you also don’t feel welcome in the other. It can be very confusing to claim and be proud of your identity.

When we talked with Maria’s grandchildren, Anna Pope Morgan and Jennifer Thompson, I learned about how Maria’s family felt as though they couldn’t talk about or honor their heritage as Native Americans because they were white passing, similar to myself. But this culture and heritage is something that we cannot extract from ourselves. It is ingrained in everything we do, from how we celebrate holidays to how we bury our loved ones.

While working on this project, I have found a resurgence of pride in my culture and heritage. Maria Pearson has inspired so many people, and I am honored to be another one of those people.

Anshika’s Experience

I never faced typical form racism where someone came directly to me and disrespected me based on my color of skin, or where I am from (Nepal). However I have been a victim of microaggressions multiple times.

I study at a college where the majority of students are white or from the same hometown. They often find it easier to believe each other than someone like me who is from another side of the world. While working on group projects oftentimes my works are overly scrutinized compared to my other teammates, my ideas are rephrased and presented by some other white person in the group. I tried confronting them but I was ignored and told that it was all in my head. Unfortunately, I decided to give up and believed what they said, which happens frequently for other women of color like me.

Anshika at a culture show with her friends hosted by Wartburg College.
Anshika at a Wartburg culture show with her friends.

After reading Maria’s life story, I connected with her because she had experienced similar microaggressions. White men in power tried to explain to her what her culture was and told her that her arguments were illogical or "didn't make sense." However, Maria handled the entire situation with strength, calmness, and her own unique sense of humor.

She stood with her claim and after many years of fighting she managed to make those people realize how she was right. Her life story has encouraged me to stand firm with my point and be patient. Changing someone's way of thinking takes years, and it is our responsibility to not give up and to make our voices heard.

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